Film: A Chic & Witchy Christmas: Bell Book & Candle

The German movie poster for "Bell Book & Candle", 1958Although it's not what one would call a "traditional" holiday film, or even one on the periphery, I consider Bell, Book & Candle from 1958 to be a fantastically chic film that has the perfect layer of Christmastime glamour. It's on cold nights in December that I'm always thinking of this movie - it's exactly what I'm in the mood for at this time of year!

Telling the tale of a family of witches in New York City (a family that includes Jack Lemmon, Elsa Lanchester & Hermione Gingold), the whole film has a slightly odd, Mid-Century aura of coolness about it that is simply fabulous. The main witch in question is Gil, played by Kim Novak, who has a shop that sells exotic African masks which serves as a cover for her family's spell-casting activities throughout Greenwich Village. The plot thickens when Shep, an eligible bachelor played by Jimmy Stewart moves in upstairs. When Gil finds out that Shep is engaged to her former college rival, she casts a spell on him to make him fall in love with her instead.

African masks & textiles create an air of the witchy & exotic during the opening credits.

Gil (Kim Novak) and her cat, the very important Pyewacket, admire Gil's modern Christmas tree.

Gil's kooky and exotic little shop is backed by her apartment of streamlined and subdued Mid-Century modern furniture. Neutral shades and clean lines create a simple but comfortable space that's the perfect thing for the cool single witch in the city. In fact, the space lends itself to Gil's entire style: modern, sexy, simple, and relaxed. Kim Novak's hair is cut very short, showing an artistic, bohemian streak, and her clothes continue with this sophisticated but breezy style. As a whole, Gil's shop and apartment are a microcosm of the bohemian culture of the Village in the 1950s; it's strange and exotic, full of odd things, and run by an odd but very glamorous (and Ivy League educated) witch. And isn't every little shop in Greenwich Village the same?

Gil goes barefoot (as witches do), and poses on her modern sofa. While this isn't your typical sexy costume, who could resist this look?

Designed by the master of glamour Jean Louis, the costumes are the perfect accompaniment to Gil's personality and spooky smarts. Yet their brand of glamour is completely understated and full of an appeal that still stands up today. I love how everything Gil wears is incredibly relaxed and modest, but still overwhelmingly sexy. Novak doesn't have a lot of costumes, but what she wears is simple and versatile. The clean lines are amped up with draped hoods and modest necklines that somehow become double-take worthy on the gorgeous Ms. Novak.

For instance, Novak's rich burgundy velvet evening gown features a very high neckline and a few sparkling bangles, but the deep V-cut back brings home a saucy message that's just jaw-dropping. I love that this one gown is shown in so many different scenes, and while it's the same dress it looks entirely different every time.

Gil casts a spell on Merle Kitteridge at the Zodiac Club as Aunt Queenie (Elsa Lanchester) laughs. I love that the deep burgundy velvet of this gown is totally subdued here, only emphasized by a trio of sparkling bangles.

For the journey home in the snow, the velvet gown is paired with deep pink gloves, a pink fur muff, and a stunning full-length hooded cape. 

Burgundy velvet in the front... in the back.

The velvet gown goes in for the kill...

Even Jimmy Stewart loves a few bangles!

Gil also holds herself in a way that sets her apart; her poses and gestures are completely outré compared to her nemesis, Shep's intended. Merle Kitteridge, played by Janice Rule, is the perfectly prim Upper East Side-Ivy League socialite who's boring as can be. She wears the "right" clothes, goes to the "right"places, and is utterly horrible. Gil's slouchy posture and somewhat un-ladylike comportment shows you right away that of the two of them, Gil is the one you want to know for the long-term. She's chic and a little sloppy in a way, but this is exactly what makes her endearing & unforgettable. Even a simple slouchy top and capri pants shows off the nape of the neck better than any strapless gown - it's a work of genius from Jean Louis. Indeed, this is how I wish I could dress every day.

The sexy red top I wish I had in my closet. I love that this is the antithesis of a body-conscious look, but it's incredibly sexy...

Gil and her brother Nicky (Jack Lemmon). I just love this leopard cape and red sweater combo. Where can I get a leopard cape like this? Vintage maybe?

When Gil goes to see Shep to explain about being a witch, the leopard cape is reversed, showing a somber black side with hints of leopard at the edges.

The sexiest look of Bell Book & Candle - a streamlined black ensemble with a hood. I love that this is so very modest, but so incredibly va-va-voom.

Throughout the entire film, Gil's attire is in a palette of vivid reds, warm burgundies, and luscious blacks. These are the perfect counterpoint to her short blonde hair and sophisticated demeanor. Meanwhile, the palette and designs lend themselves to the mystery of her witchy-ness. It's a very exciting combination and one that shows the mastery of Jean Louis. At the end of the film when Gil realizes that she's in love with Shep and has lost her witch's powers, her costume becomes pale and demure, while her shop transitions from exotic African masks to trite seashell sculptures.

Gil is everything 1950's frumpy and "normal" in sheer white and daisy yellow.

It's an interesting comment on the mores of the time that Gil has to loose her witchy powers to find true love. It's also an interesting plot turn that an emancipated, independent, and self-sufficient woman of that age has to become ordinary and powerless to be with the man she loves. Okay, so Bell Book & Candle isn't exactly a feminist film, but the character of Gil is super stylish and fabulous as long as her witchy self lasts on the screen. I think all of us could learn a thing or two from her modern, sexy style...during Christmas and throughout the year!

Film: Know Your Hitchcock Dames

I've had this post brewing in my head for a little while now, and it seemed like actually writing it would be the best way to get back into action. Especially since it has to do with some of my favorite films and their delicious, inspiring, and ever-exciting style.

The first film that really turned me on this way (and inspired my life-long love of fashion,) was Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. This was the very first film my family rented when we unwrapped our brand new video player way back in the 1980s and it's just as fascinating to me today. This was the first time I really came to notice just how much costume could tell the story; in Rear Window it serves as another character, setting up the main characters' relationship in a film that is sparse on sets and changes.

As I've come to know the rest of the Hitchcock library, I've realized that all his films feature women who are as equally alluring and stylish as Grace Kelly playing Lisa Fremont. They're all strong, unusual, backed into difficult corners, full of flaws, and yet still able to land the overwhelmingly attractive leading man. Hitchcock always made certain his women were on an equal standing with their men, creating complex and tightly controlled characters that are all designed by the same hand, yet remain wholly unique. So, with inspiration from my friend Sophia at Chic & Charming, I've put together a little look at some of the Hitchcock dames with all of their modish victories, wacky neuroses, strengths, fragilities and foibles...


year: 1940

actress: Joan Fontaine

role: The 2nd Mrs. de Winter

leading behaviorism: mousyness

weakness: rich, lonely widowers with suicidal tendencies

sartorial inspiration: whatever's hanging in the gallery

iconic fashion: English country chic - tweed skirts and cardigans

favorite food: scrambled eggs

beauty tip: a new haircut and permanent will be just the thing

accessory: a priceless, but broken figurine, hidden in a drawer

essential prop: big, spooky house on the coast of Cornwall

essential atmospheric film effect: thick, low-lying fog

aversions: Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper

breakthrough moment: "I am Mrs. de Winter now." 



year: 1946

actress: Ingrid Bergman

role: Alicia Huberman

leading behaviorism: binge drinking

weakness: American agents

sartorial inspiration: lots of draped jersey

iconic fashion: Euro/Latin - black evening gown with a deep V back, accessorized with a lace fan

favorite food: chicken and champagne with a view of Buenos Aires

beauty tip: a health spa in the Andes Mountains

accessory: key to the wine cellar

essential prop: bottles full of uranium ore

essential atmospheric film effect: the extreme close-up

aversions: mother-in-laws

breakthrough moment: realizing that there's more in the coffee than cream


Dial M for Murder

year: 1954

actress: Grace Kelly

role: Margot Mary Wendice

leading behaviorism: naivete

weakness: American crime writer ex-boyfriends

sartorial inspiration: your ordinary London housewife

iconic fashion: quietly wanton - a red lace cocktail dress

favorite food: just cocktails

beauty tip: going to jail can ravage a girl's looks

accessory: a silk stocking that needs mending

essential prop: missing housekey

essential atmospheric film effect: camera angles from up high and down low

aversions: High Court judges

breakthrough moment: finding the scissors on the desk


Rear Window

year: 1954

actress: Grace Kelly

role: Lisa Carol Fremont

leading behaviorism: clotheshorse

weakness: cantankerous invalid photographers

sartorial inspiration: whatever just got off the Paris plane

iconic fashion: Park Avenue perfection - cocktail gown with black bodice and embroidered tulle skirt

favorite food: lobster, french fries and a bottle of Montrachet from The 21 Club

beauty tip: "a woman going anywhere but the hospital would always bring makeup, perfume and jewelry..."

accessory: Mark Cross overnight case

essential prop: binoculars

essential atmospheric film effect: a complete Greenwich Village city block

aversions: knives wrapped in newspaper

breakthrough moment: breaking into the neighbor's apartment


To Catch a Thief

year: 1955

actress: Grace Kelly

role: Francie Stevens

leading behaviorism: being a rich, headstrong girl

weakness: retired jewel thieves

sartorial inspiration: Louis XV and a Texas oil well

iconic fashion: something icy-looking but no jewelry: "I don't like cold things touching my skin."

favorite food: picnic of chicken and beer overlooking the Mediterranean

beauty tip: light makeup but always suntan lotion

accessory: silver roadster convertible

essential prop: black cat

essential atmospheric film effect: fireworks

aversions: younger French girls

breakthrough moment: "The Cat has a new kitten."




year: 1958

actress: Kim Novak

role: Madeline Elster/Judy Barton

leading behaviorism: trances

weakness: retired detectives

sartorial inspiration: "You're looking for the suit that she wore for me. You want me to be dressed like her..."

iconic fashion: a plain grey suit from Ransohoff's

favorite food: dinner at Ernie's

beauty tip: get a full makeover...twice

accessory: vintage necklace

essential prop: mini bouquet of roses

essential atmospheric film effect: rapid zoom & reverse zoom: the "Vertigo" shot

aversions: California Missions

breakthrough moment: "Don't you see - it wasn't supposed to happen this way..."


North by Northwest

year: 1959

actress: Eva Marie Saint

role: Eve Kendall

leading behaviorism: flirtatiousness

weakness: advertising executives on the lam

sartorial inspiration: the quiet side of blonde bombshell

iconic fashion: little black dress and a handgun

favorite food: brook trout in the dining car

beauty tip: just be a big girl in all the right places

accessory: pearl choker

essential prop: Mount Rushmore

essential atmospheric film effect: wide open spaces

aversions: The Cold War

breakthrough moment: "I never discuss love on an empty stomach."


year: 1960

actress: Janet Leigh

role: Marion Crane

leading behaviorism: secret sexpot with a desire for "decency"

weakness: divorced hardware store clerks

sartorial inspiration: office girl - button-up shirts and pencil skirts

iconic fashion: torpedo bras and slips

favorite food: one of Norman's sandwiches

beauty tip: long, hot showers

accessory: $40K

essential prop: getaway car

essential atmospheric film effect: a Bernard Hermann score

aversions: taxidermy

breakthrough moment: pulling off the highway to find a motel room

The Birds

year: 1963

actress: Tippi Hedren

role: Melanie Daniels

leading behaviorism: practical jokes and compulsive lying

weakness: tall, handsome lawyers

sartorial inspiration: the chic suit will take you anywhere

iconic fashion: green tweed sheath and jacket for three days straight

favorite food: martinis on a hilltop over Bodega Bay

beauty tip: toothbrush and granny gown from the general store

accessory: cigarettes

essential prop: caged lovebirds

essential atmospheric film effect: bird's eye view

aversions: crows, gulls, finches, sparrows...

breakthrough moment: Seeing the crows gathered on the jungle gym.



year: 1964

actress: Tippi Hedren

role: Marnie Rutland

leading behaviorism: compulsive behavior derived from childhood trauma

weakness: horses

sartorial inspiration: unobtrusive, elegant

iconic fashion: what the neurotic wife of a rich man wears: dramatic white evening gown with white fur trim

favorite food: a quiet, family dinner at the country house

beauty tip: lots of hair dye: red, then blonde, then brown, then blonde...

accessory: beauty case

essential prop: a disapproving mother

essential atmospheric film effect: flashes of light and flashbacks

aversions: the color red

breakthrough moment: "You don't love me. I'm just some kind of wild animal you've trapped!"

To catch up on your Hitchcock Dames watch Turner Classic Movies tonight, April 1st, for "Hitchcock in the 60s". The lineup includes The Birds, Marnie, and Psycho...